In January 1986, I was in the third grade. I already had an elevated interest in space exploration with the launch of the shuttle program a few years prior. But this year we devoted many science lessons to the upcoming launch of Challenger. That's because a teacher from New Hampshire would accompany the six other crew members into space.
On January 28, multiple classes watched together as the shuttle launched live on television, on a rolling cart generally far from most of the students. The launch had been delayed several times already. The news had talked about concerns over a hard freeze that morning, unusual for central Florida. It wasn't clear at first the Challenger had exploded. If you watch coverage uploaded to Youtube, CNN didn't know immediately, even though instead of a solid plume of gases and vapor, all one could see was a ball of gas and the trails from the solid rocket boosters flying in opposite directions. The teachers figured it out, though, and switched off the television. We watched the news coverage at home. We talked about it in class. We read the books offered through the scholastic book club. Some classmates joked NASA stood for "Needs Another Seven Astronauts." We were terrible kids. And we could hardly watch a few years later when the next shuttle mission finally took place.
In February 2003, I didn't have a job. I had no legitimate reason to wake up early on a Saturday. But I did anyway, discovering the first shuttle, Columbia, had been lost on the day it should have landed on Earth. CBS showed video of parallel streaks in the sky. I knew immediately the shuttle had disintegrated on re-entry, and watched news coverage the rest of the day.